“Eating the Coat,” Fiction

by Sheila Flynn DeCosse

    Farmer Tod and his wife, Nora, lived in a cottage in the hills of Kerry. One day Tod peeked out the cottage window. He saw Nora sweeping outside with her broom made of straw. Sure, she would be busy as a hen picking up bugs, he thought. So, he stuck his gnarled hand into a blue pottery jar,  took out a handful of coins and money notes, hid them in his worn leather sack, went out the door, waved to Nora, got on his old horse, and rode down the hill to their village near the sea.

    Once there, he tied up his horse by the pub, chatted with the postmaster, and walked down the street to talk to Joseph, the tailor.

    Tod said, “Sure, Joseph, will you make me a coat of bright red cloth? Nora and I have been invited to a wedding party.”

    Joseph’s old face crinkled with surprise. “Is it an inheritance you’ve had?” he asked. He asked that because the men in that poor village, if they wore coats at all, wore grey tweed jackets. No one had enough money to spare for a fine coat. 
    Hearing Joseph’s words, Tod felt a blush creep up his cheek but he looked down and muttered, “Ah, my lovely cows have given me milk flowing over. ’Twould be nice to have a new coat, so my dear wife and I can shine at the party.”

    But then Tod’s whole face blushed red. He knew he was lying. He wanted the coat for himself, alone. Before he lost courage, he thrust out his hand with the pennies and bills towards Joseph. Joseph took the money. Later that day, Joseph ordered the red cloth for the coat from Dublin.

    When the coat was made, Joseph put the lovely red coat into a rough paper wrap and trudged up the rocky hill to Tod’s cottage. He met Nora as he came in the garden gate.

    Nora asked, “Joseph, what is it that you have in that paper?”

    “A fine new coat for Tod,” Joseph said.

    “A coat!” Nora wiped the dirt off her hands from weeding the bean plants.

    “How is it that he can spend money on a coat when we hardly have enough for a new soup pot?” she asked Joseph.
Joseph said nothing. He hung his head and looked at his shoes.

    “Let me see the paper,” she said. Her long, thin fingers parted the paper and she saw the glorious red coat. Under the coat were two pieces of red fabric left over from making the garment.

    “That Tod was always a peacock who likes to show off his finery,” she said. “A trick is what I will play on him for his mischief.” She smiled. Her clear blue eyes shone.

    “Ah yes,” Joseph said, seeing the fun in her eyes, and he fled quickly down the path to the village.

    Nora took the parcel and walked into the cottage. In the blanket trunk at the foot of their bed, she buried the coat.

     She took out the two pieces of fabric that were left in the box. She called Nick, their dog, and waved the red scraps in front of his nose. “Nick, darling, go and take a run with this,” she said.

    Tod was stacking firewood by the garden shed when he saw the dog Nick, lying in the cold mud, chewing on something red. “Here, boy,” he called. The little dog trotted over in front of him and dropped a piece of ragged red cloth at his feet.

    Tod saw with a shock that the bright red cloth looked like a piece of his new coat. He picked up the warm, spitty rag and when he held the cloth in his fingers, his heart sank.

    The next moment Tod heard Nick bark from inside of the cottage. Nick shot out of the cottage door with a second piece of red cloth in his mouth.

    Tod was sure Nick had eaten his new coat. He gulped a deep breath and ran to the cottage door. But no more parts of the coat could be seen.

    By the windowsill, Nora was standing. She was slapping and punching down a bowl of dough for a loaf of bread.  She did not look up.

    Tod’s heart sank.  Here he had spent their savings for a new coat for himself for the wedding, without telling Nora. And now the dog had eaten the coat and Nora would be angry.

    Tod said, “Nora, have you seen anything come from the tailor at all?”

    “I have,” Nora said.
    Tod’s heart took a leap. “And what the tailor brought?” he asked. “Where is it?”

    Nora turned back to her dough, rolling and slapping it with great gusto. “Oh, somewhere,” she said. “I am so busy, I cannot remember.”

    Tod’s legs trembled. He stumbled over to the window where Nora worked. He put a hand on her shoulder so that she turned around and faced him.

    “Somewhere?” he asked. “Can you not remember?”

    Nora pulled him toward her and gave him a little kiss. He saw her eyes and hope leapt in his heart.

    “Try hard to remember,” Todd said.

    “In the blanket chest is where I put it,” Nora said, turning her head away from him so he could not see her smile.

    Tod rushed over to the chest and opened the lid. There, folded in paper in the bottom, was his glorious red coat, ready to wear to the wedding party that night.

    A little bird of suspicion flew around Tod’s head. “Did you send old Nick out to me with that bit of red cloth to give me a fright?” he asked. “Because I spent our savings on myself?” he added.

    Nora’s thin face lit up with a smile. “I did indeed,” she nodded.

    Then Nora dropped the floury ball of dough into the bowl and gave Tod a floury hug. “Sure,” she said, “you played a trick on me. I played a trick on you. But, you’ll look like a fine man at the wedding tonight and we’ll dance ’til the morning breaks!”

    Sheila Flynn DeCosse, who lives in East Hampton, loves to visit her cousins on their family farm in Ireland.